Too Tough an Opponent
Larry Turville got the best of me today 6-3, 6-0. It was one of the finest matches I have ever played on a clay court. Did I mention that Larry had a 105 match winning streak on clay two years ago and that he has only lost twice on clay in the last 7 years?
The best matches are always those that are contested between two fierce competitors of similar levels. Today was one of those matches. Only two left standing. Feature court. Feature match. Spectators and players showing up to watch a battle. I know that I have evolved as a competitor on days like this. I want to be there. I feel no fear. No nervousness. I am playing one of the best senior players in the World and I know that I belong there.
I was excited about the challenge to be tough physically to deal with a guy who is the best clay court player ever in senior tennis, certain that I would be pushed to my physical limits. I love that about competing. I knew that the rallies would be punishing, lasting 15 shots or more over and over again. They were. From the first point well into the last game. We both spent extra time after points recovering.
I knew that I would need to be tough mentally, digging deeply to think positive thoughts, to maintain focus and to have strong conviction in my choices. Larry was winning most of the longer rallies so I needed to leave the security of my baseline game and find my way to the net…and to be more aggressive earlier in the points. I needed to evaluate the risk vs. reward of getting out of my comfort zone. He forced me to do it and I welcomed the opportunity. I love that about competing.
I looked forward to, over and over again, igniting only the hope filled emotions that would keep me optimistic, excited and eager to battle despite the disappointments of missed opportunities and his relentless consistency. To be happy and smiling throughout regardless of how the score was playing out. I love that about competing.
I was eager to keep the spirit flame burning despite giving it all and coming up short. Throughout the match I could fell how I love the competition as much as I love the winning. I kept finding within me the persistence, perseverance, the willingness to fight for each and every shot. I played free with my spirit flowing through every cell of my body. I smiled often at Larry after he did something great. I smiled internally at myself, point after point, as I was proud of how I played. I love that about competition.
At the end, after my last shot went wide, Larry and I met at the net, both victorious, even though he got the win. We congratulated each other for how we pushed each other for two hours, barely noticing the crowd. Once again we were both lucky to have bonded and become closer as friends and competitors. And we both talked, in the locker room of our mutual respect. Another day. Maybe a different result. But, we both hope, not a different experience.
Crazy that this tournament felt to me like another comeback. A comeback from a temporary loss of belief in my game. I am relieved that I have my mission to refer to as it always inspires me to get out there and play. Despite knowing who I am, despite knowing that if I can just be Bob all will be ok, I am still amazed that I can find my game and walk off the court proud. I love to compete. What a gift that this game has and continues to give me.
For all of you who have been following and sending notes of support, advice and encouragement, I thank you. This includes all of my new friends that have come on board as a result of the extraordinary PJ Simmons and Tennis Congress. I love to share these experiences with you. The tournaments, for me, continue to be about the playing and the writing as I continue to live the best stories of my life.
Thanks to my practice partners Jimmy Malhame, Jeff Snow, Corey Parr, Howard Dorman, Todd Ehren, Adam Rosen, Ronnie Kahn and Brian Hoffarth. You guys push me when I feel like hanging it up from time to time. Thanks to my massage team of Estrella Caban and Janet Luengas as this body of mine continues to get off your tables ready to work out for another day. Phil Wharton, your extraordinary stretching program has made me feel twenty years younger since I committed to your work.
Jody and Amy, you have been there from the start as my little girls, now sharing my stories with your children. Your texts and calls never go unnoticed.
And, Jo Ann. You are with me all the time, loving me, taking care of me, pushing me, making sure I am doing the right thing to continue to bring my best. I love to play in front of you. Your joy, your presence, your honesty and your love keep it all in perspective about what is truly important.